Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The role of teaching in Higher Ed

European universities emphasize that teaching and research are equally important. 

However, you can observe that rankings are based on publication records and citation, i.e., on research.  When reading job postings for professors, requirements emphasize research.  Maybe it's mentioned that you have to teach in one of the fields of the institution.  In your CV, you emphasize research projects, acquired funding, publications, degrees, and service to the scientific community.  And then you have a list of taught courses at the end of your CV.  In your motivation letter, you write one to two pages about your achievements, leadership, and future research projects.  And the one sentence that you consider teaching an important aspect.

Evaluation of applications or grant proposals is mainly based on your publication record, acquired funding, research stays abroad, your academic age (i.e., how many years have gone by since you got your first or last degree). 

In the late 1990s, German students aiming to become a teacher had less courses on pedagogy and didactics the older the kids would be they would teach: becoming a teacher for elementary school required attending a lot more didactical courses than becoming a teacher for secondary school (Gymnasium).  And of course, no courses are required when teaching at university level.  You just know how to do it, don't you?

So, when you apply for professorship, you are judged by your research.  But substituting for a professor is about teaching exclusively, what you research is about and whether you ever published in a journal or not---no body cares about.  Sometimes, the person substituting for a professor gets paid per hour taught---not including hours spent preparing material, assessing assignments, and supervising students. See this Spiegel article (it's in German, try GoogleTranslate for a sketchy English version).  Teaching doesn't seem to be valued.

The weekly workload of German professors has been increased some years ago in some states---you have to work one hour more, like 41 hours instead of 40.  And this additional hour went completely into teaching.  So working 41 instead of 40 hours a week means teaching 9 hours instead of 8.  This additional hour of teaching is assumed to not require any preparation.  You just go and teach students.

Only recently, PhD programs started requiring attending courses on didactics and teaching.  However, dozens of years will go by before all professors will have a pedagogical education.

What's the situation like in the US?  Do you get (mandatory) pedagogical training before you start teaching?

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